The middle tenon on an oboe is a critical part of the structure of the instrument and a good fit ensures that it plays reliably. Most oboes have three links between the top and bottom joints; the right hand trill key, the conservatoire bar and the F#-G# link. There is quite a large margin for error with the first two – they will still work ok if the adjustment isn’t perfect. Not so with the F#-G# link, which connects two pads which have to go down perfectly together. If there is any movement in the tenon joint, it’s impossible to get this link to work reliably. If it’s out one way, the F#-G# link doesn’t work. If it’s out the other way, the F# pad won’t go down and the whole right hand of the instrument won’t work.
The important thing to understand is that the cork does not make the joint stable – it’s just there to make an airtight seal and hold the joint together. The stability comes from a perfect fit on the shoulders of the tenon. These tend to wear and eventually the joint wobbles. This is when it’s time to fix the problem by fitting a sleeve to the tenon and manufacturing new shoulders to eliminate the wobble.
Howarth oboes coming out of the factory are incredibly consistent with the fit of their tenons. Before the cork is fitted, you can feel the shoulders slide into the socket snugly and the joint is stable and firm without the cork. Other manufacturers are not so reliable and sometimes even brand new oboes can have wobbly middle joints.
This video shows my technique, as taught to me at the Howarth workshops in London, of sleeving a tenon with a metal tip.
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